How it works: Earth-friendly paint labeling


by WFAA Project Green

Posted on February 5, 2010 at 4:27 PM

By PAIGE PHELPS / The Dallas Morning News

Low- and no-VOC paints are finding friends quickly in the enviro-friendly market, though some say the hype is preceding actual demand.

Ron Wolfe, owner of Mr. J's Paint and Supply Co., says most of the low- and no-VOC paint he sells is to pregnant women and customers with highly sensitive allergies. But as manufacturers are required by the government to cut down on additional solvents by either reformulating or discontinuing their paint, more low- and no-VOC paint is popping up on hardware store shelves, putting it on the average consumer's radar.

Volatile organic compounds – or VOCs – are chemicals put into paint as preservatives. They give wet paint that distinct smell.

"You'll notice the regular paint out there will last 20 years on the shelf, while those with no VOCs will last about four years on the shelf, not nearly as long as the paints you don't want to smell," says Carol Henry, store manager for Green Living in Lakewood, which sells no-VOC American Pride paint.

Even when paint dries on the wall and the smell has disappeared, Ms. Henry says the VOCs in the paint continue to emit toxins into the air.

"VOCs include a number of things, one being formaldehyde," she says. "Years after, you'll still have off-gassing from the paint from that. Like everything else, a wall 'breathes,' and the walls will breathe that formaldehyde out over the years."

Regulating VOCs dates back to the clean air acts of the 1970s, says Benjamin Moore product development director Carl Minchew.

VOCs are part of the mechanisms that form ozone and smog. First, the Environmental Protection Agency and a number of states focused on factories, refineries and other large plants to improve emissions, then they zeroed in on the transportation sector. Now, as rules have tightened, paint – especially oil-based paint – has come under heavy fire.

The government standard for VOCs ranges throughout the country between 150- to 350-grams per liter, while California's South Coast Air Quality Management District has the strictest policies in the country, requiring VOCs to total no more than 50 grams per liter, the level Benjamin Moore's new Aura paint line adopted.

Which brings us to the difference between low- and no-VOC designations; Mr. Minchew flinches at the term "zero VOC" and is always wary when it is used in the marketplace.

"It's like a metaphysical question: 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?' " he says of zero-VOC claims. "Scientifically, zero is very difficult to achieve. A lot of competitors use 'zero' with the understanding that they're not adding any solvents to produce paint, but we're not comfortable with 'zero.' At a scientific level, that's tricky."

Mr. Minchew did say, however, that Benjamin Moore is considering using "zero" if that is the way the market drives paint labeling. As for the future of the paint industry, look for more exterior paints to follow the no-VOC path, as well as primers, stains and other coatings. And definitely say goodbye to the old oil-based paint.

Until then, homeowners interested in using low- and no-VOC paints will face two major issues: a higher price per gallon and an uphill battle persuading their painters to use it.

"Most of them [painters] don't even know about VOCs, and I don't mean that in an ugly fashion, I just mean the older guys are used to doing things in a certain way, and they worry more about their paint job and using the paint they were trained with, rather than VOCs," says Mr. Wolfe.

"I'd think 100 percent of the no-VOC paints we sell are end-user requested," he continues. "Meaning the homeowner asked for them; they weren't recommended by the painter."

BENJAMIN MOORE AURA ($55 per gallon)

Company line: Formulated for extremely quick drying

Find it at: Elliott's Hardware, 4901 Maple Ave.; Frisco Paint, 7010 Preston Road, Frisco; Plano Paint, 2991 W 15th St., Plano; Walnut Hill Paint, 2720 Royal Lane.

SERENA & LILY ($50 per gallon)

Company line: Scrubbable finish makes cleaning off scuffs or wall drawings easy.

Find it at: BabyBliss, 6719 Snider Plaza, Dallas, and 1243 Main Street, Southlake, and online at

KELLY-MOORE ENVIRO-COTE ($36.35 per gallon)

Company line: Low-VOC now, company hopes to be no-VOC by end of year.

Find it at: Kelly-Moore store locator at


Company line: First high-quality interior latex paint to receive Class A certification from Green Seal, a science-based environmental certification company

Find it at: Mr. J's Paint and Supply Co., 10910 N. Central Expressway.

AMERICAN PRIDE ($35 to $45 per gallon)

Company line: Manufacturing standards help minimize water pollution.

Find it at: Green Living, 1904 Abrams Parkway.


Company line: Company uses sustainable raw materials, such as soy and sunflower oil, in the paint.

Find it at: Sherwin-Williams store locator at